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Catholic Women Leading

Ash Wednesday is a significant Catholic observance that marks the beginning of Lent.1 It is one of the few opportunities for laywomen to lead (even though they rarely make use of the opportunity).

Last week my coworker, a Salvadoran immigrant woman now living in Los Angeles (California, USA), and I took turns leading Ash Wednesday services at our church. She and I each led three services (six total) in Spanish, and a male priest led two others.

It was the second year we’d led the services. Last year we had to work through a lot of internalized sexism as Catholic women to gather enough self-confidence. I worried a lot about being criticized by both women and men for being bold enough to lead as a Catholic female. I did Co-Counseling sessions on whether or not to wear the white alb (the white robe worn by altar servers and male priests). One sweet moment was when my coworker and I were trying on albs and laughing and laughing away layers of embarrassment and fear.

Leading the services meant doing the introductory prayers, reading the Bible Gospel for Ash Wednesday, preaching, and being one of the ministers to place ashes on people’s foreheads. My preaching this year focused on God’s mercy and forgiveness and getting to start fresh. I talked about working through feelings of disappointment, discouragement, anger, and sadness in order to muster the confidence to change something to make our own life better and in order to support family members and others around us enough that they can make changes, too.

It was good to connect with parishioners who appreciated what I talked about. There were a few challenges. One woman told me I looked silly in an alb—right before I was to lead my first service. Even though her comment hurt my feelings, I’d had enough Co-Counseling sessions that I could decide to stay confident and believe in myself and my capacity to lead the service. It was interesting to notice I could make that decision in the face of criticism.

Our priest-pastor played an important role as a male ally. Last year he was firm enough against our distresses to state clearly that he wanted us to lead but flexible and playful enough to joke around with us as we worked through our internalized sexism. This year was easier. We still had moments of doubt after a female parishioner was critical of our plans to lead again, but we recognized her attitude as internalized sexism and are starting to think about how to give her a hand2 with it.

A highlight was seeing teenage females and young adult women visibly interested in women leading in the Catholic Church. A young woman asked me to help her think about how she, too, could lead and make a meaningful difference in her community.

Ellie Hidalgo
Los Angeles, California, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of women

1 Lent is a solemn Christian religious observance that begins on Ash Wednesday and continues for approximately six weeks until Easter Sunday. It is a time when Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God.
2 “A hand” means some help.

Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00